The Workforce in the UAE: Global Trends, Local Impact

Globalisation, catalysed by state-of-the-art connectivity and communication, has boosted the workforce progressively, making it more international and diverse. This is particularly true in the UAE, where more than 80% of the labour force is foreign. In fact, UAE employees will no longer be competing merely against other Emiratis (or UAE-based expatriates), but rather against a global labour force that has augmented flexibility and access to better training.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, told a group of over 3,000 UAE young workers that the future of the UAE will rely on their skills: “You are no longer competing among yourselves, but with the greatest minds around the world.” (British Council, 2018)

More importantly, it is not solely about equipping the workforce with adequate skills for the new and arduous world of work; it is also about continuous adaptation and lifelong learning. Education should shift from the concepts of getting a degree for finding a job to “life-long learning” and “on-demand learning”. Hence, there will be a need for both – promoting an ethos of lifelong learning as well as facilitating the essential infrastructure that can renovate continued learning and training.

The Future of Jobs in the UAE: Skills for A New Generation

Studies show that UAE employees are not well-equipped with the right skills to effectively compete in the private sector (PwC, 2013). In a World Economic Forum survey in the GCC, only 22% of respondents believed their education equipped them well to succeed in their career path (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017). In a global survey of young people and employers, 40% of managers said that the lack of professional skills was the main cause for entry-level job vacancies, while 60% said that new graduates were not sufficiently ready for the world of work. There were not only gaps in technical skills such as STEM subject degrees, but also in soft skills such as communication and effective teamwork (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017). This has led to the understanding in the region that there is a ‘shortage of talent’ (PwC, 2012). In fact, in the UAE, the shortage is not of jobs, nor funding – the country’s education costs are the second highest in the world after Hong Kong (Oxford Business Group, 2017; Arabian Business, 2017) – it is of skills. Given all these challenges, making a closer link between jobs and the education sector must be a priority.

To address the lack of professional skills, the World Economic Forum (2017) suggests that the UAE Government should give a robust push towards technology-enabled lifelong learning. The UAE now has the chance to take a regional, and perhaps global, leadership role in developing Ed-Tech. Particularly, applying innovative technologies could accelerate skill-teaching and training more effectively. For instance, virtual and augmented reality could fundamentally improve professional training or big data could bring forward more personalised education.

In recent years, UAE educational institutions have either established an in-house Learning Management System or acquired a Blackboard solution to leverage the benefits of active learning to their students (HBMEU, 2011). This step was believed critical to generate a technology-enabled educational experience recognised as blended learning (Randeree & Narwani, 2009). Collis (2001) E-learning and blended learning facilitate the reproduction of the educational experience at very low marginal cost; the lessons, class notes and reading materials can all be transmitted at close to zero cost; thus, entry barriers have been significantly broken down. Since entrepreneurs around the world strive to produce just-in-time products to fuel the economy and compete for cost-effectiveness and productivity, e-learning and blended learning are moving to the forefront to fulfil the training needs of this fast-changing world (Kaliski, Kalinowski, Schumann, Scott, & Shin, 2008). Therefore, blended learning and e-learning will slowly be acknowledged as the most viable and convenient solution to correct the imbalance between supply and demand, and have the potential to become an alternative to traditional training methods of the past (Pearson Middle East, 2019).

About the Author: Dr Shital Vakhariya


Dr Shital Vakhariya has 15 years of experience as a Researcher, Assistant Professor and Senior Manager, Industry Interface Project in India and Dubai. She started her career with Cholamandalam Finance, moved to the research cell of Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) and then began teaching. Currently, she is working with SP Jain School of Global Management as Senior Manager, Industry Interface Project. Her role at SP Jain involves building, deploying and leading teams for projects. She is managing and maintaining the Academic project life cycle (of master’s students), Project Sourcing and networking. She is passionate about teaching and writing research papers. She has published and presented papers at leading conferences.

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